Jen Gotch is the founder and chief creative officer of ban.do and an advocate for mental health and emotional well-being. In 2008, she founded ban.do with a friend, and with no prior business experience, transformed a small hair accessories company into a multi-million dollar lifestyle brand.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Jen about happiness, habits, and creativity.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Jen: Dancing—usually by myself. I’m not incredibly good at it, but when I’m dancing, it sure feels like I am and that’s enough to make me happy. I dance when I am feeling bad, I dance when I am feeling good. Even if only for a minute. I’m not a scientist or a doctor, but I’ve heard that when you dance your body releases a large amount of endorphins—which is a good thing. Plus, dancing connects you with the emotional centers of the brain and can prompt an emotional reaction that often comes in the form of joy. Also, dancing is just really fun.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That it is a choice. The ultimate and simplest choice. You can choose to be happy or you can choose to be unhappy. Most of the situations that make us unhappy are completely out of our control. We can, however, control our reaction and our perspective. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get sad. There are lots of times in life where sadness is the most appropriate response, but it means you can always find your way back to happiness if you choose to. The option is always available to us regardless of the circumstances, and that is something I only truly came to understand a couple years ago (at the age of 46).
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
I have gained healthy habits and broken unhealthy habits (and if I’m being honest, also broken some of the healthy habits I have gained). Like most of us, I find it hard to keep the promises I make to myself, but I rarely have that problem when it comes to the promises I make to others. So I started by pretending that I was either adopting or abandoning habits on behalf of a friend. Once I became more consistent with that and realized how nice it felt to keep promises to myself, I found I didn’t have to trick myself in order to keep a promise anymore. I have also found that giving myself grace when it comes to veering off track or “cheating” rather than shaming myself has made it easier to find my way back to the habit much more quickly and without self sabotage.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
The results from the quiz suggest that I am a Questioner. From what I know about myself, I would say that I am a Questioner and Rebel hybrid. I am a curious contrarian that holds myself to only one standard, “Did I do my best?” I believe that success is something we should measure internally based on our expectations of ourselves, and not by what the world defines as success. That feels dangerous and futile. [Gretchen: Hmmm. Based on your answer above about healthy habits, I think you’re an Obliger.]
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
Vacation—specifically one that involves sunshine and rum drinks. But honestly I think the biggest source of interference is myself. When I guilt and shame myself for straying even the tiniest bit from a healthy habit, it usually starts a chain reaction that eventually ends with me abandoning the habit in exchange for something unhealthy—drinking too much, emotional eating, avoidance, etc. I have learned that being gentle with myself, forgiving slip ups, and in fact giving myself permission to “cheat” if that is what I really need has helped me a lot. Also, just working on building my own self respect. I’ve noticed that as I’ve practiced that, it gets harder to actively let myself down.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
Most of my lightning bolts tend to come out of nowhere rather than being a consequence of any particular experience. I have had many of these throughout my life and have become incredibly accustomed to following my gut, with very few questions asked. I believe when your intuition guides you to do something, you don’t wonder why. You just do it and eventually the answer will present itself. Sometimes you just have to be ready to wait a decade or two.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
I mentioned it above: “I did my best.” It’s something I learned from the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and it has helped me to let go of some self doubt and perfectionism.
Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?
My life and my relationship to my thoughts (that were causing me debilitating anxiety and a constant influx of negative thoughts) has been changed by a collection of books, but I would say the two most impactful have been The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and the Untethered Soul by Michael A Singer.
In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?
I think the connection of success to busyness is dangerous. For a long time, the lie I was telling myself was that I wasn’t a success unless I was constantly in demand, rich, glamorous and profitable. I’ve come to find out that success has very little to do with any of this and being busy all the time is incredibly dangerous to our physical and emotional health.